Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Provincial change, federal stability in New Brunswick

Elections are few and far between, especially from my perspective. I write about polls almost every day, but each poll has as its subject an election that is often years away. I don't think it is possible to pour over provincial results too much, so it's time for one more look at the 2010 New Brunswick election. But this time, we're going to look at how the Progressive Conservatives won, and whether it means anything for the ten federal ridings within the province.

So how did David Alward cobble together his unexpected landslide? The secret appears to have been that he was able to tread water while his main rival, Shawn Graham's Liberal Party, sank.

The biggest seat swings came in Fredericton and the northeastern sector of the province. In the provincial capital, the Progressive Conservatives went from 42% in 2006 to 43% in 2010. But more importantly, they went from zero seats to all four. This was accomplished by the Liberal slide from 50% to only 34%. It was the NDP and the Greens who struck the nails in the Liberal coffin here and elsewhere.

In the Northeast, the Progressive Conservatives went from two of the region's 13 seats to seven. They did this, again, with only a modest increase in support: from 40% to 44%. The Liberals went from 54% to 41%, losing five of the 11 seats they had won in 2006. In this part of New Brunswick, it was primarily the New Democrats who caused the Liberal downfall.

Other PC gains were in Saint John and in central and western New Brunswick. In Saint John, Alward increased his party's support from 37% to 45%, winning all four of the city's seats, whereas the PCs had won only one in 2006. In the Southwest, the PCs went from 48% to 53% while the Liberals sank from 45% to 30%. Again, the NDP and Greens had a lot to do with Liberal defeats, but it was the Progressive Conservatives who saw their seat wins in the region go from four in 2006 to seven in 2010. It was the same story in the Northwest, where the PCs gained six points but the Liberals lost 13.

The Liberals did not manage to improve their share of the vote in any part of the province, though they did win more seats in 2010 than they did in 2006 in Moncton and the southeast, where the Progressive Conservatives also lost support to the Greens and NDP.

In short, David Alward won the 2010 election by maintaining his party's level of support while the Liberals fell by the wayside, making seat gains in rural and urban New Brunswick.

But can these regional changes tell us anything about what we can expect in the ten federal ridings in the province?

We'll start with the three urban centres.

Saint John, Fredericton, and Moncton have all seen close races in the last few federal elections. The Liberals had held onto Fredericton in 2004 and 2006, but lost it by 11 points in 2008. The Liberals have held onto Moncton over the last three elections, but only by three points in 2008. And Saint John has gone back and forth, with Conservative candidate Rodney Weston winning in 2008 by only 497 votes.

Provincial results bode well for the Conservatives in Saint John and Fredericton, two seats they already hold and in which their provincial counterparts improved their vote hauls from 2006 to 2010. But in Moncton, the PC vote fell from 55% to 48%. The Liberal vote also dropped, however, from 42% to 34%. It should be another close race in the next federal election.

In the northeast, Yvon Godin's riding of Acadie-Bathurst is very safe, considering he has held it since 1997 and that he won the last election with a 15,000-vote margin. Miramichi, on the other hand, was a close race in 2008, with the Conservatives edging out the Liberals by only five points. As the Progressive Conservatives managed to turn a 14-point Liberal lead into a three-point PC one bodes well for Tilly O'Neill-Gordon, the Conservative MP.

A Liberal and a Conservative hold the two federal seats in northwestern New Brunswick: Madawaska-Restigouche and Tobique-Mactaquac, respectively. Jean-Claude D'Amours won by a decent margin in Madawaska-Restigouche in 2008, but it was a much closer race in 2006. The Conservatives have held Tobique-Mactaquac since that election, with a big margin in 2008. As the Progressive Conservatives swept the region at the provincial level, D'Amours might have a tough fight on his hands again in the next federal tilt.

Liberal Dominic Leblanc is pretty untouchable in Beauséjour. The provincial Liberals performed decently in the region so that shouldn't change. Conservatives Rob Moore and Gregory Thompson have been pretty untouchable themselves in Fundy Royal and New Brunswick Southwest, so the provincial PC win should do nothing but help their electoral fortunes.

That is, of course, if the Progressive Conservatives don't scuttle their current level of popularity. We saw this happen in Nova Scotia. The federal NDP was performing well in Atlantic Canada after Darrell Dexter's provincial win, but as his government's support has dwindled we have seen Jack Layton's party sink below the 20% mark on more than one occasion.

As was the case at the provincial level, the most hotly contested ridings in New Brunswick in the next federal election will likely be in the province's three largest cities. But of the 10 MPs in New Brunswick, only three weren't elected with double-digit margins. So the possibility of a change in New Brunswick matching the sweeping result of the last provincial election is, it appears, remote.